Benefits of the Structured Literacy approach to reading

Learning loss and digital divides – two among many concerns that were raised up during 18 months of interrupted schooling. Now we are reading about accelerated learning, intensive summer schools, increased tutoring, and calls to “just let our children have a Summer”.  Each child, family and school experienced the pandemic differently. As our students emerge from lockdown life, we will need to find a variety of ways to meet their needs as they continue their learning journeys.

At the Sauer Family Foundation, we envision a world where all children are successful in school. Our focus is to ensure that children have access to evidence-based literacy instruction that allows them to become confident, fluent readers who understand the texts they read. All children should have both solid foundational reading skills and the knowledge and vocabulary required for comprehension.

The International Dyslexia Association estimates as many as 20% of the population has some symptoms of dyslexia. This language-based learning disability can make it difficult for students to learn to read in a typical school environment. Scientific imaging has demonstrated that people with dyslexia have differences in brain function than those without. These result not in an inability to learn, but a need to learn differently. Those students who fall furthest behind their peers may qualify for special educational services, however many children go unassessed or undiagnosed and find themselves struggling to keep up.

There’s good news! The instructional methods that are effective for teaching students with dyslexia to read are equally effective for all students. This approach is often called structured literacy and has three main characteristics. First, it is systematic; the basic skills of reading, such as identifying sounds and phonics, are taught in a logical order so that students move from simple concepts to more complex skills. Secondly, the teaching is explicit. Rather than being encouraged to guess, students are given clear examples of how the letters on the page match the sounds they represent. Lastly, the teacher is constantly assessing student skill, the instruction is diagnostic. That does not mean adding formal assessments or testing, rather that teachers are monitoring which students have the concept and which might need more practice. When we teach in this way, students are more likely to get the help they need sooner, and not only when they fall one or even two grades behind.

Our grant-making supports schools and programs that embrace this evidence-based structured approach to literacy and building foundational reading skills. We believe that if all students have access to quality classroom instruction it will be easier to identify those students who just need a little more practice so that they do not fall behind, as well as those who have symptoms of dyslexia and may need further assessments or individual intervention to overcome their reading challenges.

We do this work by supporting programs such as the Groves Literacy Partnerships that works with schools and teachers to share evidence-based teaching instruction, and also by supporting professional development for classroom teachers; in structured literacy or dyslexia interventions. For those students who need additional time to practice skills in a small group we support community intervention programs such as MN Reading Corps and Reading Partners Twin Cities, who bring the passion and commitment of trained community members into classrooms across our region.

~ Emma


You can find out more about Dyslexia from the International Dyslexia Association as well as more about how children learn to read, and approaches to literacy teaching from the Child Mind Institute and Understood.